Audrain County ensures students a bright future

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MEXICO — A student mentoring program in Audrain County has become the largest of its kind since adding the Van-Far School District this week.

The Bright Futures program now serves all three districts in the county.

The Bright Futures Audrain County advisory board chairman, Dana Keller, said the goal of the program is to “come together and meet student need."

"This framework helps you be able to quickly implement programs as you identify needs," she said. "It just gives you a great opportunity to meet immediate needs as well."

One of Bright Futures programs, Lunch Buddies, impacts hundreds of students bi-weekly. As of now, Audrain County has 170 regular lunch buddies, and about 25 Missouri Military Academy cadets go eat lunch with select students every other week. The community members form a relationship with the students in a way many students in the program have never experienced.

Students are recommended to the Lunch Buddy program by their teachers, who notice the need based on the student's attendance and demeanor. Once granted permission by their parents, students will start to receive visits from a lunch buddy at their school.

Keller said, “All the things about our kids and their particular situation is improving in regards to attendance, and nurses visits, and grades and enthusiasm. You know, they just begin to realize their potential."  

Bright Futures began in Joplin, Missouri, in 2010, as an effort to increase graduation rates. There are now Bright Futures affiliates across the state of Missouri and in six other states.

Keller said it is even sending someone to Alaska to start a Bright Futures Program there too. She said all it takes to get it started is someone who’s committed to “pick up the ball and roll with it."

Each county’s Bright Futures program may look different based on the community’s need.

Keller said, "The framework of this kind of has an exploration period where you send people in to really talk to teachers, talk to administrators, talk to teachers and parents and figure out what exactly it is that would be most beneficial.” 

For example, the Boone County affiliate focuses more on extra-curricular enrichment activities as opposed to the in-school interaction in Audrain County.

Keller said “I don’t know specifically what the impact of Bright Futures will be in our community five years from now but I cannot wait to see. The difference that it’s making to these kids is incredible but the difference that it’s making to us as a community is incredible.”